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SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 14)

It’s Day 14 of the Nagoya Basho and sekiwake Mitakeumi is still in the lead! In fact, with a 12–1 record he only needs one more win to secure his very first top division yusho [tournament championship]. To make matters even more interesting, the only rikishi who are even mathematically still in the running are M9 Yutakayama and M13 Asanoyama. They must win both of their remaining matches AND hope that Mitakeumi loses both of his, and even then it would only get them into a playoff on Sunday afternoon when the regular matches are done. 

Many pundits were worried that after his controversial loss to ozeki Takayasu on Day 12, Mitakeumi might suffer from a bit of depression or anxiety that would put him at a disadvantage against ozeki Goeido yesterday. However, the sekiwake seems to have just let Thursday’s bad luck flow away like water under a bridge, because he came back strong on Day 13 and beat Goeido quite handily. Today he is scheduled to face M13 Tochiozan, who fell out of the yusho race with his loss yesterday to Asanoyama. (The interesting thing about this pairing is that is seems plain that the Kyokai [Sumo Association] WANTED to set up a high stakes match between the leader and one of his challengers, but since they announce the next day’s pairings BEFORE the current day’s competition, they had to GUESS at who would win the Tochiozan/Asanoyama bout. Clearly, they expected Tochiozan to have come out on top. Oops!)

As much Mitakeumi looked strong in yesterday’s match, Goeido went back to looking a bit lost. He made a strong tachi-ai [initial charge], but when Mitakeumi met him with an equally strong opening move, Goeido seemed to have no back-up plan, and the sekiwake rather easily maneuvered him out of the ring. All in all, I think that Goeido should count himself lucky that so many of the top rikishi were kyujo [absent due to injury] this basho or he very likely would have been make-koshi [majority of losses]—and since he was kadoban [threatened with ozek demotion] this tournament, he’d have lost his rank. Now he’s secure again for at least the rest of this year.

Much to my surprise, ozeki Takayasu—who was also kadoban this tourney—did not take his suspect eighth victory and report kyujo because of his twisted left arm. He came back today to try to get a ninth win against M6 Endo. Takayasu’s performance on Thursday made it seem like he was favoring his left arm (which he injured in May, and re-injured when komusubi Tamawashi pinned it in a pretty vicious kotonage [arm bar] earlier this week), and he performed the same way against Endo. At the tachi-ai he reached his left arm underneath in order to get a safe-if-not-terribly-secure grip on his opponent’s belt, and then trusted on his superior size to give him a chance to use his right arm to make a winning maneuver. Luckily enough, that’s just what happened.

Sekiwake Ichinojo lost for the seventh time yesterday in a match against M6 Chiyotaryu. The big Mongolian now has to win BOTH of his remaining matches in order to get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and retain his spot at sumo’s third highest rank. He faces Goeido today, and the question really is which of these two faltering rikishi will pull themselves together enough to earn a victory?

Today’s top matches include:

M12 Sadanoumi (7–6) vs. M15 Ryuden (7–6)—The first match of the day turns out to be one of the best matches of the day. Two rikishi, both needing one more win to secure kachi-koshi. The loser will get another chance tomorrow, but neither one wants to wait that long. (0:15)
M6 Endo (8–5) vs. M13 Asanoyama (10–3)
—Asanoyama is one of the two remaining rikishi still with a chance to vie for the yusho. He MUST win BOTH of his remaining matches, starting with today’s bout against Endo. (4:10)
M13 Tochiozan (9–4) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (12–1)—If Mitakeumi wins this match, he takes the yusho. Tochiozan is going for pride, hoping to prove that he deserves to have been one of the front-runners so deep into the basho. (10:00)
Ozeki Goeido (9–4) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (6–7)—For me, this is a “top match” for completely perverse reasons—I just want to see which one tanks the hardest. (11:40)
M9 Yutakayama (10–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (9–4)—By the time this match happens, we’ll know the result of Mitakeumi’s bout, and that will decide whether this is a chance for Yutakayama to stay in the yusho race, or just a pairing of two also-rans. However, maybe it will shed some light on how Takayasu’s left arm is doing. (13:00)

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 13)

It’s Day 13 of the Nagoya Basho, and sekiwake Mitakeumi no longer has a perfect record! He lost to ozeki Takayasu (something I’ll have more to say about below), but at the same time, his two closest followers—M13 Asanoyama and M13 Tochiozan—ALSO lost. That means Mitakeumi maintains a two-win lead over the challengers . . . but it also doubles their number to the FOUR rikishi with 9–3 records by adding ozeki Goeido and M9 Yutakayama to the mix.

It’s hard to believe with the lackluster sumo that he put in during Week 1 that Goeido would still be in the yusho [tournament championship] race going into the final weekend, but here we are. After starting off 4–3, Goeido has won the last five matches in a row. And although he still hasn’t looked his best, he certainly no longer seems lost or unfocused, so he’s a very real factor in the competition—not least of all because he faces off against the leader, Mitakeumi, in the final match today!

Mitakeumi got a bit of a bad turn yesterday. He had a great match against Takayasu that ended with both rikishi going out of the ring at very nearly the same time. In point of fact, based on the video replay I don’t think there’s really any call that should be made other than that they went out simultaneously. But the shimpan [ring judges] saw it differently. In point of fact, I think that what they saw was that if they called for a replay, Mitakeumi would probably have beaten Takayasu, who I think was definitely favoring his injured left arm . . . and if they called the win for Mitakeumi then the basho would for all intents and purposes be over (he’d be 3 wins up on his closest competition, so the only way he wouldn’t win was if he lost ALL of his remaining matches AND either Asanoyama or Tochiozan won all of theirs). I think this call was made with the idea of keeping the yusho race exciting going into the final weekend.

I briefly, and half-jokingly, mentioned yaocho [match fixing] in my post yesterday. Although there is a centuries-long tradition of related groups of heya [sumo stables] having their rikishi take dives in order to support the immediate needs of a related “friendly” rikishi, after two match-fixing/gambling scandals in the past couple of decades, the Kyokai [Sumo Association] has done a remarkably good job of clamping down on that sort of thing. However, the Kyokai itself still does a lot of extracurricular meddling when given the chance. They arrange favorable schedules when a popular rikishi needs a boost. And although the shimpan only get involved in a few matches a tournament, I think that they quite often make decisions that favor the “good of the tournament” over the facts on the ground. 

Anyway, Mitakeumi is now 11–1 . . . and Takayasu has gotten his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] eighth win, thus erasing his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion], preserving his rank, and giving him time to fully heal his ailing arm. Surprisingly (to me) Takayasu has NOT reported kyujo [absent due to injury] now that he’s kachi-koshi, and will fight M6 Endo today.

That having been said, M2 Chiyonokuni HAS reported as kyujo after losing to komusubi Tamawashi yesterday. That makes Chiyonokuni the THIRD rikishi that Tamawashi has injured this basho (together with Takayasu and M1 Kotoshogiku), all with his use of the kotonage [arm bar] maneuver. I don’t know if it’s just bad luck, or if Tamawashi has developed a technique that is more dangerous than other arm bars, but if this goes on SOMETHING will have to be done about it. I mean, the Kyokai might want to get some fresh blood into the upper echelons of the sport, but they certainly DON’T want to do it by literally twisting arms. And if Tamawashi is going to keep injuring the popular rikishi at the top of the banzuke, that can only be bad for competition and public interest.

Today’s top matches include:

M13 Tochiozan (9–3) vs. M9 Yutakayama (9–3)—Two of the second-place rikishi going head-to-head. Only one of them will remain in second place, and the other won’t give up the spot easily. (2:45)
M9 Myogiryu (8–4) vs. M13 Asanoyama (9–3)—Another of our second-place rikishi going up against Myogiryu, who has spent pretty much the whole tournament one loss behind second place. He’s been scratching and clawing trying to get into the yusho race, but it seems to be his karma this basho to play the spoiler instead. Will he spoil things for Asanoyama, too? (4:00)
M6 Endo (8–4) vs. ozeki Takayasu (8–4)—The jury is still out on how much work Takayasu can do with his left arm. He kept it tucked reaching for an anchoring inside grip yesterday and never tried to use it to exert any pressure. Endo is a clever rikishi, so I expect he’ll try to force Takayasu into showing us what he’s got left in the tank. (11:45)
Ozeki Goeido (9–3) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (11–1)—This is the big match of the day. If Goeido wins, he and any other three-loss rikishi will be just one win behind the leader. If Mitakeumi wins, he’ll maintain his two-win lead, his magic number will be 1, and Goeido will be mathematically eliminated from the yusho race. (12:20)

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 12)

Day 12 of the Nagoya Basho is here, and sekiwake Mitakeumi remains undefeated and alone atop the leaderboard. Not only that, he’s got a two-win lead over his nearest competition. I was mistaken yesterday when I said that only one rikishi was in that second place slot. In point of fact, there were two . . . and today there remain two—M13 Tochiozan and M13 Asanoyama.

Mitakeumi showed his resolve by beating M4 Kaisei, who himself is having a very good basho and is 2 inches taller and 80 lbs. heavier than Mitakeumi. Still the sekiwake took control right from the tachi-ai [initial charge] and won the bout without any fuss.

Ozeki Goeido seems to have settled himself down and managed to notch his eighth win yesterday against M5 Daishomaru. Admittedly, this wasn’t a great feat, and it also wasn’t a particularly dominant victory . . . but it WAS enough for Goeido to secure kachi-koshi [majority of wins] for the tournament and erase his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status.

The other kadoban ozeki, Takayasu, lost to sekiwake Ichinojo, despite the fact that the giant Mongolian is having a terrible tournament. It seems clear to me that the several kotonag [arm bar] losses that Takayasu has suffered have exacerbated his previous injury, and left him with very little ability to attack from the left side. Unfortunately for him, though, Takayasu still needs one more win to reach kachi-koshi and secure his rank, so he must and will fight on. Personally, I hope he gets that eighth win today and then declares himself kyujo [absent due to injury] for the remainder of the basho. Unfortunately, today Takayasu faces the yusho leader, Mitakeumi. He’s scheduled to fight M6 Endo tomorrow (who is still in the hunt for the yusho), and we know that he’ll fight fellow-ozeki Goeido on Sunday, so that leaves only one day to hope that he gets scheduled against a soft opponent (or one that’s willing to engage in a little yaocho [match fixing]).

Fortunately for Takayasu, he’s ALREADY fought everyone else ranked M4 and higher. So the two highest-ranked opponents he could be asked to face are M5 Daishomaru and M5 Yoshikaze (who have a total of 3 wins between them so far this basho). The Kyokai [Sumo Association] can throw Takayasu a bone on Saturday and still claim that they gave him the “toughest opponent available.” The question remains, though, WILL they?

NOTE: There was one point just after shin-ozeki Tochinoshin declared himself kyujo (due to a big toe injury) where he and his coach declared that he might return to action later in the basho if the toe healed well enough. They have now announced that he is definitely NOT coming back this tournament, and will be kadoban in September during just his second tournament at the rank of ozeki. If he’s healthy though, there should be no difficulty in his getting 8 wins and clearing that hurdle. Of course, we started this basho saying the same things about Goeido and Takayasu—so you never can tell what will happen.

Some of today’s top bouts include:

M9 Myogiryu (7–4) vs. M13 Tochiozan (9–2)—Tochiozan is one of the rikishi immediately behind the leader, though in this case “immediately” is a two-win cushion. If he wants to stay in the race, he has to keep winning. But as it usually goes, the Kyokai are beginning to “reward” his earlier performance with matches against higher ranked rikishi, in this case Myogiryu. (1:55)
M4 Kaisei (7–4) vs. M13 Asanoyama (9–2)—The other second-place rikishi, Asanoyama, REALLY has an “up match” against M4 Kaisei, who is looking for his kachi-koshi AND a little payback for his loss to Mitakeumi yesterday. (4:55)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (11–0) vs. ozeki Takayasu (7–4)—This is the match everyone has been waiting for. Is Takayasu’s arm healthy enough to let him challenge Mitakeumi? Can the sekiwake keep up this incredible winning streak? The fate of the yusho race hangs in the balance. (12:10)

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Nagoya Basho, and I’m back from my personal kyujo [absence due to medical condition]. There’s been an interesting change in the standings, but not at the very top. Sekiwake Mitakeumi remains undefeated (now at 10–0) and is alone atop the leaderboard. However, his closest remaining rival, M13 Asanoyama, lost on Tuesday, dropping to 8–2 and giving Mitakeumi a two-win lead over his closest competition. 

For his part, Mitakeumi continues to perform like someone who has been in a tight yusho [tournament championship] race before—calmly going about his business and doing his own brand of sumo. And now that he’s got a buffer between himself and the rest of the field, I can only imagine that the pressure he’s feeling has backed off just a little. He’s also beaten his own personal demon and finally managed to get double-digit wins while ranked in sanyaku. I’m definitely rooting for Mitakeumi to take the yusho, but I continue to be skeptical that he’ll just waltz up and do so without facing some mighty internal challenges.

Asanoyama, the last of the rikishi who was hot on Mitakeumi’s heels, lost a wild match yesterday against M16 Hokutofuji, another young rikishi who belongs much further up the banzuke [ranking sheet]. Hokutofuji was the yusho runner-up last November, but struggled with some knee issues in the early months of this year. It’s good to see him looking strong again, but sad that it comes at the expense of a fellow up-and-comer who was doing so well this basho.

Ozeki Takayasu lost for the third time yesterday, when M4 Kaisei used a kotonage [arm bar] to roll him off the dohyo. Unfortunately, the arm in question was Takayasu’s left, which is the one he injured in May’s tournament, and seemed to strain again in his Day 5 win over M2 Ikioi. Takayasu was clearly in pain after his loss to Kaisei, but since the ozeki is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and his record sitting at 7–3, he MUST persevere until he gets that 8th win for kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Once he does that, though, I’m pretty sure we’ll see Takayasu to kyujo for the remainder of the Nagoya Basho.

Speaking of painful kotonage and going kyujo, M1 Kotoshogiku has withdrawn from the tournament after komusubi Tamawashi used an arm bar to throw him off the dohyo. He landed in a heap on an obasan [old lady] and just lay there grasping his right arm and grimacing in pain. (There’s no word on what expressions the obasan was making.) Not surprisingly, he’s been diagnosed with bicep and tricep strains that will take at least three weeks to heal, and so will finish the basho with a 3-8-4 record, which is a real shame because Kotoshogiku fought very hard in Nagoya. His win/loss record suffers from the fact that he’s one of the few rikishi who actually DID have to fight against ALL of the sanyaku rikishi this tournament—both yokozuna, all three ozeki, and both pairs of sekiwake and komusubi. In fact, it’s a testimony to how well he performed that he managed to GET three wins out of that schedule. 

Today’s top matches include:

M13 Asanoyama (8–2) vs. M10 Nishikigi (5–5)—With his loss yesterday, Asanoyama drops two-wins behind the leader. HOWEVER, if he can take advantage of the relatively low level of his competition he’s facing, he can stay in the yusho race. (1:10)
M6 Endo (7–3) vs. M3 Takakeisho (7–3)—After losing his third match yesterday, fan favorite Endo is still trying to get his kachi-koshi eighth win. Of course, so is Takakeisho, who has been using a very interesting style of sumo lately. Should make for a fun match. (7:20)
Komusubi Tamawashi (6–4) vs. M2 Ikioi (5–5)—Both Tamawashi and Ikioi are at VERY difficult rungs of the banzuke, where they must start their tournaments with matches against the top-rankers. Usually, coming into Week 2 with just two or three wins is considered a success, but both of them are doing much better this basho. Indeed, they both seem poised to get kachi-koshi and promotions even higher up the rankings. Of course, only one of them can notch another win today. (11:25)
M4 Kaisei (7–3) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (10–0)—Mitakeumi has a two-win lead over his nearest competition, and a three-win lead over most of the field. Of course, his opponents are only going to get tougher each day ahead for the remainder of the basho. Kaisei “version A” has been showing up most days, here in Nagoya (maybe because the summer heat is very Brazilian), and if that continues, he’ll for sure give Mitakeumi a run for his money. Also, Mitakeumi has NEVER beaten Kaisei before (though they’ve only met four times previously). (13:15)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (4–6) vs. ozeki Takayasu (7–3)—Takayasu needs one more win to erase his kadoban status. The big question here is about his left arm and how much pressure can he exert with it? Ichinojo seems to have utterly fallen back on his lazy ways, but he’s still a monster of a human being, and Takayasu probably can’t beat him with one arm almost literally tied behind his back. Probably won’t be the best sumo of the day, but it may be the most interesting match. (14:15)
Ozeki Goiedo (7–3) vs. M5 Daishomaru (3–7)—Goeido also needs one more win to get kachi-koshi and erase his kadoban status. He, however, has a much easier path to walk against Daishomaru, who is having a pretty dismal tournament. (15:15)

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 10)

Because of my one-day kyujo [absence due to medical treatment], I don’t have much to say about Day 10. But below is the video . . . and I should be back with full commentary for Day 11. (Oh, and you can look elsewhere on my blog for info about my medical situation, if you’re interested in such things.)

MEDICAL UPDATE: Time For The Ablation

I’ve been pretty quiet about my medical situation for the past month mainly because the only thing to talk about was waiting for my insurance company to see the light of reason. Eventually, and with a lot of help from the fine folks in my cardiologist’s office, they did … and they approved my cardiac flutter ablation procedure that was originally supposed to be performed in early June. 

Thankfully, the folks in my cardiologist’s office were planning for success, and we tentatively rescheduled the procedure for mid-July … and now that works out PERFECTLY. So with only a little bit of warning, I’m going into the hospital very early tomorrow (Tuesday) morning for what is supposed to be a very straightforward surgical procedure. The goal is to run an electrode catheter up a vein in my thigh straight into my heart. Once there, it uses electrical pulses to identify the mis-performing cardiac tissue, then uses radiofrequency energy to neutralize just that tissue. Basically, they’re going to microwave my heart from the inside. (Apparently, they hate when people describe it this way, because it is a very common and very safe procedure … and the phrase “they’re nuking my heart from the inside” tends to freak people out.)

All in all, it should be a relatively short procedure (3 to 4 hours … and most of that apparently is the slow, careful process of getting the catheter up and down the length of my torso) and I should be able to go home early in the afternoon (quite probably before most of you actually read this post). Having talked to several people who have had this procedure, all reports are that I should wake up with little to no post-operative discomfort and be ready to just jump right back into my busy life … only with a heart that no longer is fluttering. (Whether this will cure the a-fib or just makes it easier to manage is something we’ll have to see in a follow-up appointment with my cardiologist in a few weeks.)

Anyway, I wanted to let you all know what was going on. I certainly will accept all thoughts, prayers, good wishes, and other positive vibes that you care to send my way. And I’ll make posts on my Facebook and Twitter accounts for those who want to keep a closer watch on the action. 

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 9)

Day 9 dawns for the Nagoya Basho. The weather is still frightfully hot, and now is when the yusho [tournament championship] race will heat up ever further. Sekiwake Mitakeumi is still undefeated and alone atop the leaderboard. Right behind him are M6 Endo and M13 Asanoyama with just a single loss each. And still hanging on with 6–2 records are ozeki Takayasu, M6 Chiyotairyu, and M13 Tochiozan. Take a good look at those mostly unfamiliar names—one of them is very likely going to be hoisting the Emperor’s Cup on Sunday. 

Mitakeumi broke his own personal best by getting his eighth win in a row, and securing kachi-koshi [majority of wins] in the minimum number of matches. He continues to look strong, calm, and more poised than a 25-year-old rikishi can usually manage. He fights M5 Daishomaru today, who is having a pretty terrible basho with a 3–5 record so far, so the real pressure on Mitakeumi is all internal. Can he stay focused and keep winning now that it really matters?

Endo survived a closely fought match against M9 Myogiryu yesterday, showing that he too is calm and focused. Today he faces the other M9 Yutakayama, who has a pretty good 5–3 record so far this basho.

Both of our kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] ozeki won on Sunday. Takayasu notched his sixth victory by completely dominating M5 Kagayaki, giving real proof that there’s no real lingering damage to his arm. Goeido, on the other hand, had to turn the tables on M4 Kaisei at the ring’s edge to narrowly eke out his fifth win. If the Brazilian rikishi had been able to keep his balance for half a second longer, Goeido would have hit the ground first. But with the yokozuna and fellow-ozeki Tochinoshin kyujo [absent due to injury], it’s seeming pretty likely that they can get the two or three wins they need (two for Takayasu, three for Goeido) to secure kachi-koshi and protect their ranks.

Sekiwake Ichinojo, on the other hand, continues to embarrass himself as he was out maneuvered, and pretty much taunted into overextending himself and falling flat on his face by the young M3 Takakeisho. With a 3–5 record, he must win five of his remaining seven matches, but three of those will be against the two remaining ozeki and the current tournament leader. It’s looking more and more like make-koshi [majority of losses] and a demotion from sekiwake are in his future. 

Today’s top matches include:

M15 Ishiura (4–4) vs. Asanoyama (7–1)—It’s not often that you see a rikishi who is near the top of the leaderboard fighting in the very first match of the day. But as I’ve said a few times before, being ranked that far down the banzuke is actually a pretty big advantage for Asanoyama. (0:10)
M16 Hokutofuji (5–3) vs. M11 Onosho (5–3)—Two up-and-coming young rikishi who are both recovering from injuries, and both giving pretty solid performances this basho. We’ll be hearing more from them in tournaments to come. (2:25)
M6 Endo (7–1) vs. M9 Yutakayama (5–3)—Endo is still just one win behind the leader, and looking very comfortable at the M6 rank. It’s generally only when he fights opponents near the top of the banzuke that he has troubles. (7:10)
M5 Daishomaru (5–3) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (8–0)—All Mitakeumi has to do is keep on winning. Of course, he’s now on the longest winning streak of his career, so there’s no telling how much more he’s currently capable of doing. (12:20)
Komusubi Tamawashi (5–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (6–2)—Takayasu needs two more wins to erase his kadoban status, and must keep on winning if he wants to stay relevant in the yusho race. Meanwhile, Tamawashi had a very good week for a komusubi (the toughest ranking on the banzuke). At 5–3, he’s got a real shot at double-digit wins and a chance to be promoted into the sekiwake spot that Ichinojo is likely to get demoted out of. (13:45)
Ozeki Goeido (5–3) vs. M4 Kagayaki (3–5)—Which Goeido will show up today—the one who is capable of winning a yusho, or the one who habitually loses to middling rikishi like Kagayaki? (14:55)

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s Day 8, nakabi [the middle day] of the Nagoya Basho, and for the first time in several days, no rikishi have dropped out. However, word is that the already insufficient air-conditioning system in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium has failed completely . . . so it could be considered to be kyujo [absent due to injury] and uncertain as to whether or not it will return. The temperature OUTSIDE in Nagoya has been over 100F the past couple of days, so we can only imagine how hot it is in a building with that many spectators PLUS the lights. 

The conditions IN the basho may be just as brutal, but they are still pretty much the same as they were yesterday. Sekiwake Mitakeumi remains unbeaten and alone atop the leaderboard. He’s trailed by a trio of rank-and-file rikishi with 6–1 records—M6 Endo, M6 Chiyotairyu, and M13 Asanoyama—and then a group of five rikishi with 5–2 records (interestingly, even in THAT group there is only a single sanyaku rikishi—ozeki Takayasu). There’s still a lot of tournament left to fight, and the way things are going it seems Quixotic to make predictions, but it sure SEEMS like we’re going to have a first-time yusho [tournament championship] winner when we come to the end of Week 2.

With his seventh win yesterday, Mitakeumi tied his personal best for most victories in a row (within a single basho). He’s now stepping into uncharted territory. As I said in my Saturday commentary, the big question is how he’ll handle the pressure of being the leader as the basho moves closer to senshuraku [the final day]. I’m impressed by how calm and in control he looked in his win over M1 Kotoshogiku. Honestly, he’s doing a great imitation of someone who’s been here before. He was already a popular rikishi, but these days you can see more and more fans in the crowd waving towels with Mitakeumi’s name on them whenever he steps up onto the dohyo. 

As much as the fans are rooting for Mitakeumi, though, they adore Endo. And given that in every basho that he gets promoted to a sanyaku rank, he stumbles into make-koshi [majority of losses], this might be the best and only chance in his career to actually win a title. One thing’s for sure, IF the two of them get to go face-to-face this basho (which with seven rungs on that banzuke [ranking sheet] separating them, is by no means a certain or even likely thing), the crowd will go absolutely bonkers.

In the match descriptions yesterday, I noted that being ranked down at the bottom of the banzuke may give M13 Asanoyama the best chance to sneak into a hiramaku yusho [a tournament won by a Maegashira rikishi]. At the very least, he’ll have the easiest schedule of all the current contenders, fighting mostly against other rikishi ranked in the bottom third of the banzuke. But he’s still a very inexperienced rikishi, only 24 years old and fighting in just his sixth basho in the Makuuchi Division. Still it could be that his inexperience gives him an edge in that he doesn’t know how out of his depth he truly is—he just has to keep showing up each day, taking it all one match at a time.

Ozeki Takayasu looked okay yesterday in his win over M3 Abi. Well, he didn’t look like dominant ozeki, but at the very least he didn’t look like his arm was bothering him. He’s still kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this basho and must get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] to retain his rank. If he can lock down those three final wins, he can begin worrying about how things are going in the yusho race.

Ozeki Goeido, on the other hand, lost again yesterday, taking his record to 4–3. He also is kadoban, and is clearly struggling. Interestingly, he’s the only rikishi active in the basho who has won a yusho in the past (having gone a perfect 15–0 for a zensho-yusho [no-loss tournament championship] back in September of 2016). But he’s not fighting at anywhere near that level in Nagoya, and needs to get himself focused. He doesn’t have to face the yokozuna or Tochinoshin, which is good for him, but he DOES have a more challenging Week 2 ahead of him, and he must do as well or better in order to secure 8 victories.

Sekiwake Ichinojo at least temporarily turned his luck around yesterday against M2 Ikioi, finally getting his third win of the tournament. However, that probably was more about the fact that Ikioi just played straight into the big Mongolian’s only winning strategy than anything clever that Ichinojo did himself. In fact, when reporting on the match, the commentators focused mainly on the fact that Ichinojo seemed to be muttering “It’s so hot!” to himself over and over while waiting for his match to begin. 

One source reports that there’s still an outside chance that shin-ozeki Tochinoshin may return to action on Monday or Tuesday. He apparently went back to a Tokyo hospital to have his injured toe tended to, and an optimistic assessment is that the swelling and pain may go down quickly. If so, word is that he’ll consider rejoining the competition. Personally, I think that’s a pretty terrible idea. He should accept that he will be kadoban in his second tournament as an ozeki, let his toe rest and heal up as much as possible, and come back with a strong performance in September. Otherwise, he risks being just another cautionary tale about a rikishi that reached a great height and then immediately fell down to earth (like Terunofuji is, and Takayasu is teetering on the edge of).

There was A LOT of really great sumo today! I had to leave quite a few terrific bouts off my “Top Matches” list, including BOTH ozeki matches!

M13 Tochiozan (5–2) vs. M16 Hokutofuji (5–2)—A strong match between two solid rikishi who have fallen to the lower rungs of the banzuke. Both deserve to be ranked a good bit higher, but they’ve got to PROVE it with their performance. Only one can notch a sixth win today. (1:35)
M11 Aoiyama (3–4) vs. M13 Asanoyama (6–1)—Asanoyama is one win behind the tournament leader and wants to make a point about his strength by beating the big Bulgarian. Aoiyama unfortunately is suffering from a knee injury that really cuts down on his mobility. (3:35)
M6 Endo (6–1) vs. M9 Myogiryu (5–2)—Endo is one win off the lead, and is a huge favorite with the crowd. Myogiryu is looking very strong this basho, and wants to stay within striking distance of the leaders. Probably the most exciting match of the day. (5:30)
M9 Yutakayama (4–3) vs. M6 Chiyotairyu (6–1)—The last of the second-place rikishi to fight today. Chiyotairyu has been rock-solid all tournament, marching forward, through, and over his opponents with unspectacular but irresistible sumo. (7:45)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (3–4) vs. M3 Takakeisho (4–3)—Ichinojo is trying to turn his basho around so that he can get kachi-koshi and hold on to his sekiwake rank. Takakeisho is a young up-and-comer who is trying to prove he deserves to be promoted to sanyaku. (11:45)
M2 Chiyonokuni (4–3) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–0)—Beyond the yusho race, Mitakeumi is attempting to do something he never has before—start a tournament with eight straight wins. And if he really wants a shot at the yusho, he MUST beat all his Maegashira-ranked challengers. (13:10)

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 7)

We’re entering the middle weekend of the Nagoya Basho, but we’re doing so with ANOTHER top rikishi having withdrawn from the tournament. This time it is ozeki Tochinoshin, who lost his share of the lead and severely jammed his big toe in yesterday’s match against komusubi Tamawashi. That leaves just ONE rikishi undefeated and alone atop the leaderboard—sekiwake Mitakeumi! It also leaves only ONE rikishi still in competition who has previously won a yusho [tournament championship]—ozeki Goeido!

What a strange situation to be in.

As I’ve pointed out over the past few days, Mitakeumi looks strong, and has been steadily ranked in the sanyaku group (the top four rankings in the sport) since November 2016, having had only one make-koshi [majority of losses] in the intervening ten tournaments. But the fact remains that during that time he likewise has never managed to get more than 9 wins in any single tournament. Now, with both yokozuna and Tochinoshin absent, and the two other ozeki not performing at the top of their games, this seems to be the tournament where Mitakeumi will break the 10-win barrier. But as in any sport, great psychological pressures gather as one closes in on a championship—particularly for the first time. There’s no way to know how Mitakeumi will respond to those pressures as we move into Week 2.

Of the thirty-five other rikishi remaining in competition, ONLY ozeki Goeido has ever won a tournament . . . and he’s only done so ONCE. He’s also currently kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and is not giving a stellar performance, having only amasses a 4–2 record over the first six days. While his likelihood of getting kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and securing his ranking has greatly improved with the withdrawal of his three toughest upcoming opponents, he still pretty much needs to win 8 of his remaining 9 matches in order to have a strong chance at winning or tying for the yusho . . . and, as I just noted, he didn’t put on that kind of dominant performance in Week 1. This is sumo, though, and all of that is behind him. He certainly has the ability to do what it takes in Week 2—the question is, WILL he?

The other remaining ozeki—Takayasu—is technically in the same position as Goeido, having gone 4–2 so far AND also currently being kadoban. But he also has looked shaky all tournament, and seemed to re-injure his left arm (which sidelined him completely for the May basho) in an awkward loss on Thursday. I’m still uncertain he’ll be able to secure 8 wins and save his rank, let alone compete for the yusho, which is a real shame because I’d very much LIKE to see Takayasu get his first top-division championship (he won a Makushita Division championship when he was an up-and-coming rikishi back in 2010).

With the collapse of clear dominance at the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet], it becomes interesting to note which of the rikishi lower on the banzuke [ranking sheet] are currenly holding 5–1 records. Normally, they’d pretty much be aiming for double-digit wins and a shot at a special prize, but now they have to consider themselves legitimately in the hunt for the yusho itself. Rather than review them all here, I’ll make sure to point them out in today’s top matches.

The only thing that is certain is that we should have a very WILD Week 2 as a whole crop of new blood takes aim at hoisting the Emperor’s Cup, without any of the old guard standing in their way.

Today’s important matches include:

M15 Meisei (2–4) vs. M13 Asanoyama (5–1)—Asanoyama may be down near the bottom of the banzuke, but he’s amassed a 5–1 record so far, putting him one loss behind the leader, and he’s much stronger than the competitors at this rank. That means he may have the easiest path to stay in the hunt for the yusho. (1:50)
M9 Miyogiryu (5–1) vs. M6 Chiyotairyu (5–1)—Another two rikishi, both currently ranked in the mid-Maegashira range, who are currently one win behind the leader. Of course, after this match, one of them will have fallen off that pace. (5:20)
M6 Endo (5–1) vs. M8 Kyokutaisei (1–5)—Crowd favorite Endo is also among the one-behind-the-leader crowd. He’s very quietly been racking up some impressive wins so far, and the fans would go crazy if he could end up winning the whole shebang. (6:05)
M1 Kotoshogiku (2–4) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (6–0)—The sole leader, still undefeated Mitakeumi, takes on former ozeki Kotoshogiku, who has been putting on a good performance, this tournament, but simply being out-fought by stronger competitors. Mitakeumi’s pressure-cooker starts to build steam now. (10:50)
M3 Abi (2–4) vs. ozeki Takayasu (4–2)—Here’s our first chance to see what kind of condition Takayasu’s left arm is in. He’s still fighting to ward off his kadoban status, so he won’t go kyujo no matter what. But if he’s not healthy then he’ll be struggling to get kachi-koshi, and if he is then he’ll be fighting to get back into the hunt for the yusho. (14:05)
Ozeki Goeido (4–2) vs. M3 Takakeisho (3–3)—Let’s see which Goeido comes out fighting today—the strong one who manhandled Abi yesterday, or the unfocused mess that lost two matches against weak Week 1 competitors. (15:00)

 

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 6)

It’s Day 6 of the Nagoya Basho, and still we have a pair of undefeated rikishi leading the pack—ozeki Tochinoshi and sekiwake Mitakeumi. But what’s more, we have another big name withdrawing from competition. 

This morning, yokozuna Kakuryu reported that he has suffered some unspecified injury and is going kyujo [absent due to injury], meaning that for the first time in nineteen years, we have a hon-basho with NO yokozuna in competition. Honestly, that doesn’t seem SO strange to me, as in the first year or so of my sumo fandom there WERE NO yokozuna. (Asahifuji retired in January of 1992, and Akebono didn’t get promoted until March of 1993. And even then, as the lone yokozuna, Akebono was kyujo for two basho later in 1993.)

Could this have something to do with Kakuryu’s embarrassment after losing to M3 Abi, who at one time served as one of Kakuryu’s tsukebito [attendant/assisntant]? Or was the loss caused by this mysterious injury . . . because I thought the loss was because Kakuryu continues to backpedal and pull on opponents whenever his Plan A doesn’t work out, and all the good rikishi have learned that when that happens he is highly vulnerable to a strong thrusting attack (which happens to be Abi’s ONLY weapon). Still, whatever the reason, it is clear that Kakuryu will not three-peat as a yusho [tournament championship] winner. 

The biggest winners in the wake of Kakuryu’s withdrawal are the ozeki, particularly Goeido and Takayasu, who are both kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and now will have two of their Week 2 matches converted from probable losses against yokozuna, to probable wins against mid-Maegashira rikishi, since all the sanyaku and upper Maegashira rikishi were ALREADY on their schedules. This makes it much easier for them to secure kachi-koshi, no matter HOW badly they do in the rest of Week 1—Goeido already has 2 losses, and Takayasu looked like he might have sprained his wrist in yesterday’s win over M2 Ikioi. An even bigger sigh of relief has to be coming from sekiwake Ichinojo, whose record currently stands at 2–3, and will also trade a pair of yokozuna matches for ones against opponents he might be able to scare with just his sheer size.

Our two leaders, of course, also benefit in the same way from the pair of yokozuna kyujo, but they aren’t fighting to stave off such dire consequences. Indeed, for Tochinoshin, rather than being a relief against calamity, the absence of Hakuho and Kakuryu instead makes him the odds-on favorite to win the yusho (which would give him at least a shot at making a run for a yokozuna promotion in September). He still has to put up stellar sumo for the next week, but he now knows that if he does, his final weekend won’t be nearly as challenging as it otherwise was sure to be. While the same is true for Mitakeumi, the sekiwake has still never even succeeded at getting more than 9 wins while ranked in sanyaku, so it’s a stretch to suppose that he has an equal shot of taking the yusho as Tochinoshin (who won the yusho in January) does. 

KAKURYU UPDATE: As the time of the matches drew nearer, Kakuryu’s oyakata [stable master] made an announcement that yokozuna’s problem was a recurrence of the elbow pain that kept him out of action through much of 2017. He said that this started before the basho kicked off, and that Kakuryu has been unable to do tsuppari [thrusting attacks] or generate any power with the affected arm. But like any other rikishi he “tried to weather the storm.” Now, though, he’s decided that the metaphorical seas are too rough.

Today’s top matches include:

M15 Ishiura (3–2) vs. M16 Meisei (1–4)—The first match of the video, but a very exciting one! (0:15)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (2–3) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (1–4)—Ichinojo keeps seeming to be on the verge of shaking off his poor performance and showing us the style of sumo he did in May—then he goes back to lumbering about aimlessly. Meanwhile, Kotoshogiku has been fighting hard all basho, but running headlong into the fact that he’s no longer got top-tier skills. Still, he may not need them, if “bad Ichinojo” shows up today. (10:25)
M1 Shodai (1–4) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–0)—Mitakeumi is looking solid and confident. Shodai, on the other hand, has been shaky all basho. But nothing focuses a rikishi’s mind like the chance to knock one of the leaders off the top spot. (11:10)
Komusubi Tamawashi (2–3) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (5–0)—Everything I said about the previous match applies here, just switch the names. (13:05)